Several conversations I’ve had recently have reminded me what a cruel master religion is. When discussing theological issues with religious folks, rather than having an open dialogue with an intent to learn, the conversation invariably devolves to a repetition of “Well, we believe…” or “My denomination teaches…” or the ever-popular “Well The Bible says…” or some such conversation-ending phrase.
Another phenomenon I’ve experienced—and I’m sure I’m not unique in this—is the immediate dismissal of any idea that does not fit with the preferred denominational narrative. Charges such as, “You’re being deceived” or “You are portraying God as you desire Him to be rather than as The Bible portrays Him” are common. There’s also the ever-popular practice of building out of a bible verse or two, doctrines that become absolute and inviolable.
Probably the most frustrating aspect for me is when you bring up logical disconnects between these doctrines and the example or teaching of Jesus, and your fellow Christian starts making up theories to explain away the disconnects. These theories have no evidentiary basis. They are just possible explanations that fill in the gaps in their dogma.
This practice stems from a couple of problematic practices. The first is holding an assumption-based worldview. Rather than using evidence to build a worldview, an assumption, usually based on childhood indoctrination or peer group opinions, forms the basis for their worldview. These assumptions form a base for follow-on logical extrapolations which will be inherently corrupt because they are founded on a false foundation. Nevertheless, when the doctrines are questioned, they must be vehemently defended.
The second problematic practice is holding the view that one must figure out the correct essential doctrines to ensure that one gets to heaven. This leads to theological views that are based on an unhealthy fear of God. As if God expects us to perfectly understand infinite concepts before He will grant us a ticket out of the eternal torture chamber. These doctrines become paramount, leading to irreparable disunity between Christian factions.
All of this leads to the never-ending practice of rolling the religious rock uphill—the endless guilt and confession and prayers and service, always hoping (but never certain) that they will be enough to placate the angry God who demands blood for sin. But the God that Jesus revealed to us does not demand blind faith nor doctrinal perfection nor ritual worship.
Imagine a wife who desires a deep and loving relationship with her husband. Her husband hands her a copy of his autobiography and tells her to read it. When she finishes it, he tells her to read it again. She must also carefully follow his demands, such as making sure that the house is always dusted and that his clothes are immaculately pressed in order for her to earn his grudging acceptance. This is the relationship that Western Christianity envisions between man and God. No wonder that people, after looking in vain for a connection with God, are fleeing churches in record numbers.
People will not be truly free to pursue uninhibited spiritual growth until they seek God outside of the constraints of religion. And only outside of religious structures and practices can the true development of the community of followers of Christ be realized.